SolAir threatens newspaper

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Solomon airlines warns legal action against Island Sun unless it stops reporting about the airlines

BY ALFRED SASAKO

SOLOMON Airlines has threatened Island Sun with legal action unless the newspaper stops reporting the national carrier’s woes.

In a pre-arranged interview, which Solomon Airlines’ Brisbane-based Chief Executive Officer, Brett Gebers, had requested to “put his side of the story” Island Sun reporters, Ben Bilua and Barnabas Manebona got the shock of their lives when they arrived at the Mendana Kitano hotel for the interview.

Capt Gebers is the first Solomon Airlines CEO who has a permanent rental accommodation in Honiara, but is domiciled in Brisbane. Solomon Airlines is paying $46,000 a month for his rental apartment at The Heritage Park Hotel.

In Wednesday’s incident, the Airlines had assembled a team which consisted of a lawyer, a Solomon Airlines’ Board member and a senior member of the Airlines’ management and Capt Gebers.

What followed was clearly orchestrated to intimidate and harass the two young scribes.

“It was clearly designed to intimidate and frighten us off. But we stood our ground,” Mr Bilua said later.

Bilua said interview turned into what could be described as a one-sided mud-slinging match of accusations after accusations against Island Sun.

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“What agenda does Island Sun has in reporting Solomon Airlines’ problems,” they kept repeating.

“We simply told them Island Sun does not have an agenda, except to report matters of public interest. Solomon Airlines is a national carrier and the safety of the public is paramount,” Bilua said.

Island Sun this week ran a front page article about a Ground Power Unit (GPU) which the Airlines left behind in Tarawa, Kiribati last month after restarting the engines of the Airbus A320’s Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) which had earlier failed to start, grounding the aircraft. The APU performs two functions, including starting the aircraft’s main engines.

The GPU was flown to Tarawa from Honiara to restart the Airbus aircraft’s engines but the unit was left behind for three weeks denying other international flights in and out of Honiara access to power should they experienced power failures.

It is not clear whether Solomon Airlines Management informed other international carriers such as Air Niugini, Air Nauru, Fiji Airways and Virgin that Honiara was without a GPU for three weeks.

But the parting shot in the so-called interview came from the lawyer who attended.

“If Island Sun does not stop reporting Solomon Airlines’ affairs, we will sue your newspaper,” the lawyer said.

“We simply informed them that as reporters we do not have the authority to say yes or no. But we will report this to our editors and management. We will also inform the executives of the Media Association of Solomon Islands (MASI),” Mr Bilua said.

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